In his speech, Putin quickly pivoted to blaming the war on the “Western elites.”
“We believe that any ideology of superiority is inherently disgusting, criminal and deadly,” he said. “However, Western globalists and elites still talk about their exclusivity, pit people and split society, provoke bloody conflicts and upheavals, sow hatred, Russophobia, aggressive nationalism, and destroy traditional family values that make a person a person.”
Putin then reiterated his claim that Ukraine had become “hostage to a coup d’etat and the criminal regime formed by its Western masters” and “a bargaining chip in the implementation of their cruel, selfish plans.”
This is the first public event Putin has attended since Moscow’s stunning accusation last week that Ukraine sent two drones flying toward the Kremlin fortress in what Russian officials labeled an “assassination attempt” on their leader — a claim broadly rejected by political and military experts. Kyiv denied any responsibility.
Victory Day commemorates the defeat of Nazi Germany in what Russia calls the Great Patriotic War that left over 20 million Russians dead and normally features parades across the country.
This year, for the first time, the Victory Parade has been broadcast on large-format outdoor screens around the city. In addition, the parade is broadcast in Moscow subway cars and for the first time in ground transport, the mayor of the capital, Sergei Sobyanin, announced the day before.
Security was tight in the Russian capital with special forces police patrolling the center, stopping and inspecting commercial vans, while police vehicles waited on standby in side streets. Red flags banded with the orange and black St George ribbon lined Moscow’s streets, and screens on street corners depicted black and white scenes of World War II, underscoring the Kremlin’s attempt to equate the Soviet sacrifice in that past war with its present fight to crush Ukrainian resistance.
Putin was accompanied by some of his few remaining allies, including the leaders of Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Armenia and Belarus. Almost all of them labeled their visits as “working trips,” during which they planned to participate in Victory Day ceremonies.
Regional officials have been anxious about holding huge public events amid the Ukraine war — which is increasingly felt by Russians at home after a series of unexplained fires and explosions — even before the drones blew up over what is supposed to be one of the most protected buildings in the country.
At least 20 cities across Russia canceled Victory Day parades, with regional officials saying they didn’t want to “provoke the enemy with large amounts of equipment and military personnel” gathered in one place or out of concern that returning Russian soldiers may perceive the sound of fireworks “in a completely different way.”
The Immortal Regiment, an annual procession that draws millions of Russians carrying photographs of relatives who fought in World War II to march across most major cities, has been canceled. In Moscow, Putin traditionally led the march himself.
But the incident, which some analysts speculated was a false flag attack while others argued it might have been done by Ukrainian partisans or anti-Kremlin diversion groups working from inside the country, has been weaponized by the Russian authorities to galvanize public support for the war and justify the drastically scaled-back events.
Since the supposed attacks, more than half of Russia’s regions have banned the use of unmanned aerial vehicles, while Moscow residents complain about increased GPS jamming in the city center disrupting taxi services. The capital’s street police officers have been reportedly handed binoculars with the order to watch out for more drones in the sky.
Underscoring the nervousness plaguing the national holiday, Putin on Friday convened the Security Council, including Russia’s highest-ranking defense and security leaders, to discuss preparations for the Victory Day parade.
Seven attending foreign leaders is unusually high for the Kremlin’s main Victory Day parade in recent years. Last year, Putin watched the event alone. Only seven leaders from former Soviet countries attended in 2020, when the ceremony was pushed from May 9 to June 22 because of the coronavirus pandemic. The 70th Victory Day anniversary in 2015 saw the highest number of foreign guests, with dozens of representatives arriving from around the world.
Some commentators suggested the expanded guest list may be a tactic to make any diversion attempt too risky.
“This dramatically reduces the likelihood of a terrorist attack on the parade on Red Square by Ukraine,” Sergei Markov, pro-Kremlin political scientist and former lawmaker, wrote in his Telegram blog.
Under Putin, the May 9 parades and marches designed to commemorate the veterans have morphed into a showcase of Russian military might, with giant Iskander ballistic missile systems and modern Armata tanks rolling through the streets of Moscow.
In recent years, Putin has been increasingly focused on ensuring that Russians are presented with a simplified and glorified version of their country’s history, one that delves into its many conquests of the years, including the illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014. The victorious narrative and the legacy it carries into the future is pedaled by the state bureaucratic machine across all groups of Russian society, starting as early as kindergarten.
Since last year, schools and kindergartens introduced thematic classes meant to “explain” to young Russians the importance of what the Kremlin calls “the special military operation” in Ukraine.
This Victory Day, the presentation of military themes to the country’s youths has reached new highs, according to local media reports, with kindergartners and schoolchildren writing letters to soldiers, making crafts “to raise morale,” or teachers staging performances to “instill a sense of pride in the heroism of our people and a steady interest in the army” into their students.
One year of Russia’s war in Ukraine
Portraits of Ukraine: Every Ukrainian’s life has changed since Russia launched its full-scale invasion one year ago — in ways both big and small. They have learned to survive and support each other under extreme circumstances, in bomb shelters and hospitals, destroyed apartment complexes and ruined marketplaces. Scroll through portraits of Ukrainians reflecting on a year of loss, resilience and fear.
Battle of attrition: Over the past year, the war has morphed from a multi-front invasion that included Kyiv in the north to a conflict of attrition largely concentrated along an expanse of territory in the east and south. Follow the 600-mile front line between Ukrainian and Russian forces and take a look at where the fighting has been concentrated.
A year of living apart: Russia’s invasion, coupled with Ukraine’s martial law preventing fighting-age men from leaving the country, has forced agonizing decisions for millions of Ukrainian families about how to balance safety, duty and love, with once-intertwined lives having become unrecognizable. Here’s what a train station full of goodbyes looked like last year.
Deepening global divides: President Biden has trumpeted the reinvigorated Western alliance forged during the war as a “global coalition,” but a closer look suggests the world is far from united on issues raised by the Ukraine war. Evidence abounds that the effort to isolate Putin has failed and that sanctions haven’t stopped Russia, thanks to its oil and gas exports.